Explainer: What is Wikipedia?

When you hear the word ‘wiki’, you most probably think of Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is one of the wiki-based website, and is in fact the most popular and most viewed wiki based sites in the world.

So what is a wiki?

Wiki is a piece of software that allows users to freely create a Web page whose content can be edited using any Web browser. Whenever you want to modify a page, click on the “edit” button , make your changes and save the page. The modified page now replaces the previous version. This makes it easy to update the website and have people contribute content. Each version of the page is stored in the history and can be reverted if needed.

So, wiki software or wiki engine refers to piece of software that runs wiki websites. There are different types of wiki based websites based on different types of wiki software. Some very simple, others with advanced features. Some wiki engines are open source, whereas others are proprietary. Some permit control over different functions.

WikiWikiWeb is the first wiki. It was launched on 25 March 1995 by its inventor, programmer Ward Cunningham.
The software and website were developed in 1994 by Cunningham in order to make the exchange of ideas between programmers easier. On March 25, 1995, he installed the software on his company’s (Cunningham & Cunningham) website, c2.com.

Cunningham

Cunningham came up with the name WikiWikiWeb because, when he was in Honolulu International Airport, an employee at the counter told him to take the Wiki Wiki Shuttle, a shuttle bus line that runs between the airport’s terminals. “Wiki”, a Hawaiian language word for Quick. Cunningham’s idea was to make WikiWikiWeb’s pages quickly editable by its users, so he initially thought about calling it “QuickWeb”, but later changed his mind and dubbed it “WikiWikiWeb”.

Since then, programmers have created many wiki softwares and wiki Websites. Wikis can be used for a large variety of tasks and are used in corporations and other organisations.

Now there exist at least hundreds of thousands of wiki websites.Wikipedia is the largest and most popular wiki on the planet, we will use it as an example to understand how wikis work.

Type “Narendra Modi” in the search box in www.wikipedia.org and the result will be a typical Wikipedia article. The article offers a description about Narendra Modi, links to several related articles.

where did this page on “Narendra Modi” come from? Who wrote it?

In a normal website, the website pays someone to write the article. With Wikipedia(and any other wiki), the answer is quite different.

If you have something to say about “Narendra Modi” that you feel should be on the page, or if you have any link that you believe would be helpful to other readers who are reading about “Narendra Modi”, then you can add whatever you have to say to the page. Simply click on the “Edit this page” tab and write what you want. So, anyone can add or edit the page.

If anyone can edit the page, then there is a chance of Vandalism. Vandalism is “action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property”. A Vandal might erase a page or adds porn links or pictures etc. This kind of things do happen. WikiWikiWeb came under the attack of vandals, and was made read-only state for some time. But using variety of tools the wiki community sees what vandals has done and take appropriate measures.

What is Wiki Community?

The heart of any wiki is its community. Literally millions of people visit Wikipedia every month, and together they form Wikipedia’s community.

Large majority of people visit Wikipedia to read articles.Some readers who visit Wikipedia become writers. They add or edit the content in an existing article or create a new article. If they see an error on a page they are reading, they correct it. If they can make a small addition that is helpful, they will do it. Visitors who have been contributing to Wikipedia for a long period of time are granted administrator privileges. These privileges give them the right to delete and un-delete pages, blocking and unblocking IP addresses, etc.

What will happen when you edit a page is that the Wikipedia community will react to your change. If the community has no problem with what you wrote, then your change may still be there completely unaltered one day later. If what you entered was wrong, you will find that it has been removed. If you make a typo, chances are that someone will fix your typos. In other words, your change will be either accepted, modifying. or rejected by the community. In that way, pages on Wikipedia are expanding and changing all the time.

How did the community know that you made the change?

There are several tools available in most wikis that help the community to see what is changing.

Each page in Wikipedia has a history that anyone can see. So, every change in the page will be recorded in the system.

In wikipedia, thousands of pages change every day. There can be 50 or more pages changing every minute. Therefore, Wikipedia has a tool called a watchlist. Here’s how it works:

Let’s say there is an article in wikipedia which you are very much interested in. You would like to know when other people change the article. So, by adding that page to your watchlist, you will get notified every time that page changes.

So any change made to an article will never go unnoticed for long.After you make the change, many people in the Wikipedia community will see what you have done.If they do not like the changes you make, they will remove or modify them. If they do like the changes you make, they will leave them alone
There are thousands of other wikis on the Internet now. As a genre, wiki sites are growing rapidly. Here are few examples:

WikiTravel
WikiHow
Wiktionary
It is now common to see wikis used inside corporations and organizations. Suppose, there is an application which is used by all your employees in your organization internally. But there is no documentation available as how to use the application. Training is done by word of mouth.

In such kind of scenarios we can go for wiki. So using wiki they can build their own documentation a little bit at a time. Each time someone learns something, they can add it into the wiki to let other people understand how to use the feature. Over time, users will build complete documentation for the entire application.

One thought on “Explainer: What is Wikipedia?

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